Posted by: debstake | January 20, 2010

iPod Touch – A new door to Communication

I have decided to write on this topic because we are moving JR from his dynavox V to an iPod touch and I was asked to by the editor of the ASA newsletter for the greater Harrisburg area. There are several reasons for this move. The first was an article in USA today about the iPod/iPhone being used as AAC’s. The article was written in May of last year and can be found HERE.

To begin the dynavox is in many ways like the PECS. As an AAC is a great “jumping off point” when first being introduced to the world of AAC’s. It is a great machine and when it’s not being sent back for repairs it does the job it’s intended to do. It allows those who are non-verbal or with limited speech to communicate with the world. It is also a computer (windows XP) that allows access to the internet, uploading of educational software, and game playing.

All that being said; like everything high tech it does have its drawbacks. To begin the company markets this device as being very sturdy. Speaking from practical experience I can say that just isn’t so. The company states that it can take a drop of up to 10 feet. Within the first three months of ownership of the unit it was accidently dropped in the gym at JR’s school from a coat hook that was less than 3 feet off the floor, shattering the touch screen. Every year since JR has had the unit something has happened that it has had to go back to the company for repairs. From January of 2009 until August of the same year the unit has had to go back five or six times. One instance was for the hard drive crashing that warranted replacement. This after 3 or 4 returns for the same issue. Another time was due to the pin set in the battery compartment being bent. The company itself is rather reluctant to do the proper repairs the first time and it took my threatening to get our school district’s special education director involved along with the schools legal department. Thank God the school district took my advice and got a four year extended warranty for the unit. Add to all this the prohibitive cost of the unit (the Dynavox V (or 5) runs $7,820 and the V Max is $8,420) and without financial assistance from your school district (first payor) or private insurance (2nd payor) or medicaid (3rd payor) this unit is out of reach for many families ours included.

The one advantage the dynavox does have though is if you or your loved one has limited fine motor issues the screen is relatively big with an 8.5  inch diagonal viewing/touch screen. The touch screen once calibrated properly is very responsive. Updating the software is relatively painless if you have internet connection. Make sure though that you have anti-virus software installed before accessing the internet. Remember this is a microsoft operating system. And we all know how prone they are to attack from hackers and malicious viruses.

However, when programing the dynavox for you or loved one’s personal preferences is no easy feat. The unit comes with an 8×11 heavy duty binder that is pretty much filled with instructions on how to program it. That should give you an idea of the complications involved in the process. In addition to the user manual it comes with a keyboard and mouse that plug into the USB ports. These are relatively cheaply made but functional. When initially setting up preferences you will use these a lot. For more info on the dynavox please go HERE.

The comparison of the dynavox to the iPod touch on the other hand is the difference between night and day. The dynavox weights about 5 pounds and is a bit cumbersome. The iPod weights in at about 4.05 ounces is hand held and very portable. The iPod has a touch screen as well. The speaker output in a loud environment isn’t the best but externals can be purchased for the unit beginning at nominal charges and traveling into the hundreds of dollars. For options on speakers please go HERE. Another site I was made aware of by a reader’s comments after I posted this entry yesterday can be found HERE. All though they don’t appear to have the external speakers that JR’s iPod will need they do have a large assortment at VERY reasonable prices. Or just do a google search using the phrase “iPod external speakers”. We are opting for THIS external speaker system. It amplifies the speakers and acts as  a protective case as well. The cost of an iPod touch runs in price from $199.00 (8GB) $299.00 (32 GB) and $399.00 (64 GB) and if you go HERE Best Buy is running an on-line only discount on all three. It isn’t a lot but every little bit helps. You can also (and I highly recommend it) purchase extended warranties for this device just as you can for any electronics. We purchase all of electronic extended warranties from a group known as square trade. Their website can be found HERE. Consumer reviews can be viewed HERE. A warning in order to get accidental breakage coverage via square trade the warranty must be purchased within 30 days of the purchase receipt for the electronic device.

Now for the nuts and bolts of what I believe makes the iPod an exceptional unit over the dynavox. The program that turns an iPod into an AAC is called Proloquo2Go. The application costs an additional $200.00 (don’t be alarmed though as most of the apps are reasonably priced for this device and some are free). THIS on-line tutorial makes this device so easy to program even I can do it! The screen is a small but very crisp 3.5 inches. You can download music and movies to the unit and you have internet access anywhere there is a wi-fi connection. And we all know that’s just about everywhere these days.

There are many applications for our children and if you go to HERE. The blog is called the speech language pathology sharing. There is an entry that lists them all and it is updated regularly.  Also there is a forum that deals with the iPod touch in unison with AAC.  This form focuses on the Proloquo2go application. The moderator is very informative and he partnered with Samuel Sennott and Eric Sailers. His name is David Niemeijer. David is actually a PHd in the environmental sciences. He came to programming this software because of a friend who needed better than what he had. Necessity truly is the motherhood of invention. You can access the forum HERE.

Two other distinct advantage of the iPod over the dynavox is who makes the iPod. This is an Apple product and let’s be honest here; Microsoft can’t touch apple for stability and security. When we can we will be making the switch to an all Apple household. The second advantage is so many have iPod touches that our children won’t stick out like sour thumbs carrying one around.

UPDATE: I found an article that will help extend the overall battery life for the iPod as well as the recharging frequency for the device. The article can be found HERE.


  1. I enjoyed reading your blog. I am a clinical social worker and have worked with children and adults on the spectrum for eight years and I am excited about the possiblities for the I pod and I pad.

    I was recently at a training at the Milestones Conference with Howard Shane from Harvard who demonstrated the use of the I pad for a verbal assistive device, PECS, social stories and schedules. I was impressed at how easy it was and versatile while fitting into the norms of other children and adults.

    As a professional I see a learning curve for other professionals to recommend based on not being familiar with the technology themselves. I for one am going to find out all I can because I see a definite need for it.

  2. Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!


  3. Fantastic piece — great information. I agree with your comments about Apple, too. I still use PCs–except for my iPhone– only out of habit (and they’re less expensive!).

    Thanks for your comments on my post on Today’s iPhone on Proloquo2Go. I, too, have a son with ASD and while he is verbal, he has definite challenges with verbal communication.

    Great list of apps for our kids, too! I will be digging through it.

    All best to you and your family!

  4. Amanda, Thank you for the compliment. When I blog I try to do so with as many facts as I can get my hands on. This entry in particular was a joy to write. I am so excited for my son and what this little device is going to delivery in a very BIG way! My husband and I love our iPods and we are having a blast with them too.

  5. Malcolm
    Yes the P2G app is being fitted for the iPad even as we speak. As to your concerns all of them are very valid and being addressed for the other students at my son’s school. With my son he did 5 years with PECS/file folders and is on his 4th year with the Dynavox. We are doing dry runs right now with him on the iPod and based on the data collected thus far he is a natural for it. Of course it will take time for him to adjust himself but the speech staff at his school feel he’s going to do fine with it.

  6. The only thing that worries me if non verbal child is on the beginning of using some communication system. Then I would go “natural” way… Start with PECS, expand it with Boardmaker file folders, then introduce Dynavox and if child masters it then go with Iphone. I think most of the moderate and severe kids with autism who are non verbal might find difficult to use so small screen and navigate through it succesfully without any prior prerequisits.
    Is there something with bigger screen on the market? What about that new device with funny name… I-pad?

  7. Very good information thank you.
    Bookmarking this page.

  8. Thanks for your link to speech applications for the ipod. I will check them out.

  9. Tiff,
    I am curious as to where the information on this blog was at. Can you elaborate please? Just being nosy on that point.

    As to Vista being reluctant about starting Summer on the iPod; what reason did they give you for their hesitation? BTW because so many of the kids at school are getting or have gotten the iPod touch Vista has opted to pay for the P2G app ( an app that costs $200 right now) and any app that is recommended for the individual student.

    Not exactly sure what @ best buy you will be looking to purchase however, if it is the iMainGo2 external speakers it is not at Best Buy but at Target and only on-line.

    You are correct about it taking a village to raise a child. However, (this doesn’t mean u in anyway) when the village leaders are idiots I would rather go it alone. And where the autism community is concerned there seems to be more idiots than people with knowledge!!

    Anyway glad my blog post got you “motivated” to use your iPod for Summer.

  10. Hey Deb came across your article in my search for apps for the itouch for autism.
    Since im’ing you last week, I told my husband and he was all over it. He has been pushing to get Summer on an audio system so this really got me going!
    This week I mentioned it to school, and well, let’s just say that I am going to be on my own to start the ball going.
    Right now I’m sitting at the kitchen table w/Summer and I downloaded an app on spelling words. Needless to say, we’ve been sitting here for an hour already and she is enjoying it! I’ve yet to get a case for my itouch…so it was sliding all over the table. My husband grabbed a jar opener pad and put it under the itouch for stability. Guess I’ll be making a trip to Best Buy this weekend to finally start using this thing, lol! So far so good. Summer seems to really like using it, and it’s easy enough for her.
    She’s been showing signs of frustration, sadness, and the like because of her inablily to effectively communicate. We have to really start getting her started on this. I’m excited….Keep me updated on JR’s progress w/this.
    Take care and thanks!!
    Remember….it takes a village!!!

  11. The iPad looks even better!!!!!!

  12. Fielding, yeah the iPad does look so cool….however, for portability it just doesn’t seem to fit the requirements. The iPod can be tucked into a pocket, not so with the iPad. However, the iPad with P2G would be the answer for our non-verbal kids who also have fine motor issues.

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